Co-founding has often centred around the size of a business opportunity and how well people get along in the early stages. Unfortunately, the initial chemistry between cofounders is not a great predictor of whether they can work as a tight-nit and closely aligned team during crises. It’s no surprise then that the third biggest cause of failure for startup and new projects comes from team issues. Given the costs of failing at a venture or project, it’s wise to invest some time and attention into what we call conscious co-founding – the art of coming together to create a new team.
Taking a systemic lense, we can define Six Key Interactions (SKIs) that allow a team to be regenerative, that is to give back more than it takes from each of its stakeholders. The first of the SKIs is about Identity and within it, the key question is defining the who and why of a team. I usually use a format called a Guiding Question that serves to highlight the key needs of the stakeholders, but in the early stages of dreaming a new project or venture, the first stakeholder we can dedicate our attention to is the co-founders themselves. So below is a simple, yet powerful exercise to reflect on what each person involved aspires to get from the venture or project. And especially, to discuss the order of priorities upfront.
Below is a list of the most common aspirations when it comes to starting new projects, use it as a guide to reflect on your own aspirations and priorities. You can explore it with your co-founder by each taking 10 dots and dividing them amongst the list according to what you’d like the venture to give you most, then compare and discuss your reasonings.
Note that some of these are usually seen as cooler or more socially acceptable, while others are a bit taboo. Fight the urge to conform to society’s expectations and try to be brutally honest with yourself and your colleagues. This is a key juncture in shaping your culture between honesty or appearances. Also, try to be concrete: how much, when, how often, in which form, what would be enough, what wouldn’t be enough? Disagreements hide in the details, so conscious co-founding (and your long term success) depend not on pretending everything is perfect, but on finding potential conflicts and addressing them proactively.
10 common aspirations of founders
- Belonging / Connection: being part of a tribe. A sense of camaraderie and harmony.
- Personal Growth / Learning: acquiring new skills, a sense of discovery and exploration.
- Mastery: perfecting a skill or craft, focusing on what we’re excellent at.
- Impact / Community Contribution: making a positive change in the world, helping others.
- Creative Expression: self-expression, having the possibility to create.
- Wealth: money, financial security, financial achievement.
- Fame: gaining status and recognition, developing a reputation.
- Power / Agency: being able to influence the organisation and call the shots.
- Health & Wellbeing: personal wellbeing, life-work balance.
- Time / Flexibility: being able to confine work to work-hours, space outside work to do other things.
- Do any others come to mind?